According to The Lonely Plant, Qingdao, also known as Tsingtao (青島), is “a breath of fresh (ocean) air.”
Situated on the east coast of China’s Shangdong Province, it is a rare modern city that has managed to preserve its past. Its deepwater harbor and proximity to Korea and Japan made it the target of unwelcome foreign interests during the Boxer Rebellion and forced to be conceded to Germany in 1989, during which the Germans improved the city’s infrastructure and also left behind the famous Tsingtao Brewery. After the brief German occupation, the Japanese moved in in 1914.
After World War II the Kuomintang allowed Qingdao to serve as the headquarters of the Western Pacific Fleet of the U.S. Navy in 1945. When China opened up in the 1980s, western Qingdao quickly bloomed as a port city.
Today, the coastal fishing village has become a leading port and industrial city, and home to booming textile businesses, chemical processing, rubber and heavy manufacturing. In 2006, the World Bank named it as one of the 6 "golden cities" of China. It is now the headquarters of the Chinese navy's northern fleet. It has also become an important tourist destination.
As of 2014, Qingdao was home to a population of 9.05 million from 38 ethnic minorities. Because of its proximity to Korea, there is a large Korean community living, working and studying there as well. Its residents speak with a distinct local accent known as Qingdao dialect (青岛话, qingdao hua).
It is also home to a large number of higher education institutions: Ocean University of China (formerly Ocean University of Qingdao), is the most important university of maritime sciences in China; in addition, there is Qingdao University, Qingdao University of Science and Technology, as well as Qingdao Technological University. All have been an integral part of Qingdao’s higher education community for decades. Other newer institutions there include the China University of Petroleum (2012), Shandong University of Science and Technology (2003), Qingdao Agricultural University (2007), and in Haungdao district, Qingdao Technical College and Qingdao Binhai Univeristy, a private institution.
Another unique aspect of Qingdao is that is has preserved a blend of concession-era architecture from its past with modern structures. There are winding cobble stone streets and red-capped hillside villas, giving the city of a little more than 4,000 square miles a distinct atmosphere, earning it the nickname, “Switzerland of the Orient.” Qingdao is both a destination spot for Chinese and foreigners.
Surrounded on three sides by the ocean, it enjoys a pleasant temperate climate. There is plenty of sunshine from March through May. From June to September, it can be hot and humid (July and August are hottest), with occasional heavy rains. The cool sea breeze returns in October and November and from December to February, prepare for frosty strong winds with temperatures ranging from the 20oF-40oF.
What to do and see?
Qingdao Naval Museum
Built in 1989, this 430,556 square foot-naval museum is the only military museum to exhibit collections in the development of Chinese naval field. It records the development and history of the Chinese navy. It includes exhibition of weapons, equipment and maritime ship area. It has a display of the various types of uniforms since the navy was established in 1949, a weaponry area and the marine ships exhibition area with approximately 800 articles altogether, including presents from more than 60 countries to China.
Qingdao Beer Museum
Built by Tsingtao Beer Brewery in 1903, the museum covers approximately 65,000 square feet. It is the first and only beer museum in China and combines historical items with modern design. In about an hour, the visitor will learn the history of beer, the manufacturing process and the company culture via interactive electronic screens. The items and historical data were contributed by the international friends from Germany and Japan, and those who worked in Tsingtao Brewery. Visitors get to sample free Tsingtao beer also!
Lu Xun Park
The park was built in 1929 and named 'Ruoyu Park' and ‘Seashore Park.’ In 1950, it was renamed Lu Xun Park to commemorate Lu Xun, pen name for Zhou Shuren (1881-1936), who is considered one of China’s greatest modern writers. He also was a short story writer, editor, translator, literary critic, and ideologist, where a 10-ft. granite sculpture of him was erected in 1986. There is a 246-ft. corridor carved with 45 poems written by Lu Xun and a copper embossed portrait of the writer is inlay.
The main entrance of the park has a beautiful stone archway with glazed tiles. Beyond are a world of pine woods, exquisite pavilions and rugged reefs. It’s an enchanting spot to watch the ebb and flow of the waves, the birds, and the boats at sea. Many stay until dark to watch the moonlight fall on the park. Other attractions within the part include the Underwater World, which is an aquarium with breathtaking views of 20,000 specimens of marine mollusks, arthropods and fish.
May Fourth Square
Also known as Wu Si Square, this 25-acre public square commemorates the (cultural and political) May 4 Movement that started in Qingdao in 1919. Located between the municipal government building and Fushan Bay, it’s a wonderful place to take a stroll, fly a kite or just take in the fresh sea air. At the center of the square is a red spiral sculpture called the “Wind of May,” like a permanent flame, representing Qingdao’s prosperous future.
The square was constructed in the 1990s with an array of underground fountains that shoots water 300 feet into the air! Visitors can shop the many vendors selling various kinds of ornaments and Qingdao souvenirs.
Located approximately 25 miles from downtown Qingdao, is recognized as the “Cradle of Taoism.” There are 218 places of interest on this 3717-ft tall mountain by the coast. In the old days, the Qin and Han emperors climbed the mountain in search of immortality.
The main sites to see include the Temple of Supreme Purity, the largest and oldest Taoist temple complex on Laoshan; Jufeng the main and highest peak; Temple of Great Purity located on the southeastern slope, was built in the Song Dynasty, is one of the oldest structures on Laoshan; and Longtan Waterfall located to the south of the Temple of Great Purity and has a height of about 200-ft drop. The oddly shaped rocks, ancient trees, crystal-clear springs and mineral water draw local and foreign tourists alike. In addition, the water for brewing Tsingtao beer comes from here!
Olympic Sailing Center
This was one of the venues of the 2008 Olympics by Fushan Bay, adjoining May Fourth Square. Post Olympics, the venue has become a national sailing sports school as well as a water sports training center. The whole Olympic Sailing Center is open to the public, becoming a place of recreation and a tourist resort.
Han Dynasty Brick Museum
Located at the foot of Laoshan, the story behind this private museum was that Zhang Xinkuan, a young army officer, discovered huge granite slabs while laying a road approximately 30 years ago. He found these slabs covered with exquisite carvings and saved more than 5000 of them. Subsequently, he spent his life savings collecting these Han Dynasty relics, which speak volumes about life and culture in old China.
When to go?
If you love beer, it’s a no brainer! Go during the Qingdao International Beer Festival. This annual event takes place the second weekend of August annually and lasts 16 days! It has become a large-scale festival for the people of the whole city and in 2006, became one of the top 10 festivals of China.
Began in 1991, it now has more than 100 top international and domestic brewers attend to show off their brews. Beer tents and activities such as spectacular fireworks, a great parade made up of military bands, ethnic troupes, floats and daily musical performances, high tech laser shows, evening entertainment and drinking competitions abound.
Not a beer drinker? Surrounded on three sides by the ocean, Qingdao enjoys a pleasant temperate climate. There is plenty of sunshine from March through May. From June to September, it can be hot and humid (July and August are hottest, with temperatures in the high 70s F and low 80s F), with occasional heavy rains 30 percent of the time. The cool sea breeze returns in October and November and from December to February, prepare for frosty strong winds with temperatures ranging from the 20oF-40oF.
What to eat?
Besides beer, there are tons of food, both Chinese and Western. Flavors from all over, such as Korean—especially barbecue—is easy to find, as is Japanese (with lots of creative sushi). European food abounds, too, with excellent Italian and French restaurants and German pub food as well.
Qingdao is all about seafood. Many seafood restaurants are “menu-less,” i.e., you point at the large fish tanks and pick out your dinner fare. Sure sign of freshness! You have a wide range to choose from: fish to oysters, lobsters, sea cucumbers, shrimps and conches, and just about anything that lives in the ocean. A local must-try is the fried spicy clams. Other local delicacies are: guantangbao, small steamed buns with soup inside; sanxian zhengjiao, steamed dumplings stuffed with shredded shrimp, pork and Chinese leek; and paigu mien, noodles with spare ribs.
If you're not into fish, the Muslim restaurants provide great Xinjiang cuisine with lots of beef and lamb alternatives, accompanied by their famous wheat noodles and flatbreads.
And be sure to visit the food streets: Yunxiao Road, Minjiang Road or Maidao Road. All offer great food and cater to tourists.